How the world has changed in less than six months. The relative ease and efficiency of modern-day travel had led to us to believe the globe had somehow shrunk but, suddenly, due to the effects of the pandemic, for the first time in decades it again feels immense and elusive.
In fact, many of us shouldn't actually be here at all right now and somewhere else (though, even with Victoria's regrettable outbreak, thank God we are here).
So here we all are and Australia, for the foreseeable future, is our world and what a world we're about to be reminded of, if we so choose, it can be. The operators of escorted journeys, or guided tours as they used to be known, have, to employ that corona cliche, pivoted in the direction of our backyard in an attempt to entice the millions of Australians banned from taking a trip abroad to consider an escorted journey at home.
"Traditionally at this time we would have thousands of Australian guests enjoying the northern summer in either Europe or North America," says Jason Wolff, the managing director of Trafalgar.
"But here in Australia we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel for the opening of state borders and we are confident that by the time we start these trips in September we should have the majority of regions open across our country."
Evan Petrelis, the managing director of Renaissance Tours, which specialises in upscale cultural tours, says during April and May the company worked non-stop to produce no fewer than 30 new domestic tours to operate between September and December 2020.
"It was a great learning experience for us. The pandemic has forced us to rediscover things we may have taken for granted about Australia," he says.
In fact, Petrelis believes even once international travel resumes the experience will have provided the travel industry with "a once-in-a-generation opportunity" to promote Australia's assets so that special interest domestic tours will remain at the forefront of Australians' annual travel plans well into the future. He may be onto something.
Karen Deveson, the managing director of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold, said that her organisation recently surveyed 1000 past clients who revealed they were a little embarrassed to admit there were many parts of Australia, and for that matter New Zealand, they had never visited.
"We only launched our new Australia and New Zealand tours last week and early bookings indicate we are on the right track," she says.
"Of course, we can't wait for international borders to open again but we feel very spoilt for choice with the collection of tours we have on our doorstep."
Traveller has chosen to highlight five Australia-themed fully guided tours, all which, of course, feature essential COVID-19 safe protocols, by five operators targeting different markets. All have been designed to inspire Australians to embrace the wonders of their own country in a similar style and manner to which they've been accustomed overseas.
THE TOUR Tasmania's Food, Whiskey & Wine, six days
Shene Estate at Pontville near Hobart. Photo: Samuel Shelley
THE OPERATOR Insight Vacations
WHAT THEY SAY "Imagine raising a dram at Shene Estate, home to Tasmania's triple-distilled whiskey, as you embark on a tasting journey of the finest whiskey and gin," says Karen Deveson, the managing director of Insight Vacations and Luxury Gold in Australia. "Or visiting the spectacular Bruny Island and indulging in a seven-course gourmet experience of artisan cheeses, world-class oysters, locally harvested honey and more local wines and gins. Or, after settling into your hotel in the heart of Freycinet National Park join your fellow travellers for a barbecue dinner as you take in the views over the magnificent Coles Bay."
WHAT WE SAY Tasmania has long been the apple of our eye and this tour, part of Insight Vacation's new "Local Escapes" collection, represents a dram fine opportunity to sample its culinary bounty as you sit back and let someone else look after all of the arrangements, all in a manageable six days. The island state has won seemingly more global plaudits for its world-class whiskeys over the past decade or so as much as it has for its fine wines with this tour also encompassing many of Tasmania's stellar natural attractions such as Freycinet National Park.
ESSENTIALS The tour, starting and ending in Hobart, runs between October and March, starts from $3675 a person twin share, and includes a maximum of 22 guests. See insightvactations.com
THE TOUR Art Galleries of Regional Victoria, Bendigo, Ballarat & the NGV Ian Potter Centre, six days
Tarrawarra Museum of Art, Yarra Valley. Photo: Alamy
THE OPERATOR Renaissance Tours
WHAT THEY SAY "We had long felt that a short tour of some of Victoria's prominent and world-class regional galleries was long overdue and wanted to offer something that would showcase the state's vibrant art scene and its status as a major player on the international art stage," says Evan Petrelis, the managing director of Renaissance Tours. "We have included galleries such as the impressive TarraWarra Museum of Art in the Yarra Valley, the significant and the excellent galleries in Bendigo, Ballarat and Geelong. We also thought it was important to include a special curator-led private tour of the National Gallery of Victoria's Australian Art collection at the Ian Potter Centre in Melbourne itself to complete the picture."
WHAT WE SAY Of course, you could visit all of these galleries yourself on a short driving holiday but think of all of the unique insights and expertise you'd miss in the form of Brian Ladd, your tour leader and past president of the Art Gallery Society of NSW. And don't forget that someone else (not Brian, we assume) will be doing all of the driving aboard the air-conditioned coach and all of the arrangements including accommodation at Daylesford's acclaimed Lake House and the well-regarded Langham Melbourne. This tour by Renaissance, which specialises in cultural tours, forms part of the collection of "Art Escape" domestic tours in partnership with the Art Gallery Society of NSW, and includes a special curator-led tour of the National Gallery of Victoria's celebrated Australian art collection.
ESSENTIALS The tour dates are September 20 to 25 by which time Victoria will surely have been declared a victory over the latest coronavirus outbreak. The cost is $4250 a person, twin share, not including airfares. See renaissancetours.com.au
THE TOUR South Australia Flinders Ranges & Wineries, seven days
The road to Bunyeroo Gorge in the Flinders Ranges. Photo: Alamy
THE OPERATOR APT
WHAT THEY SAY "Our new Luxury Short Breaks feature the best accommodation in spectacular locations with a focus on relaxation, food and wine," says Chris Hall, APT's group managing director. "My personal favourite is this seven-day 'South Australia Flinders Ranges & Wineries' journey which includes dinner at the [Good Food Guide] three chef hatted Hardy's Verandah Restaurant, a glamping' experience at Ikara Safari Camp in Wilpena Pound with plenty of time to spot endangered wildlife in the Flinders Ranges. APT has been revealing the secrets of Australia to its guests for almost 60 years, and the Flinders Ranges is a must-see highlight - it holds a special place in my travel memories as it offers some of the most dramatic landscapes in the country."
WHAT WE SAY We share the enthusiasm. The Flinders Ranges, after all, is one of outback Australia's most under-rated destinations. Its extraordinary wildlife, including the endangered yellow-footed rock wallaby, competes for attention with the region's spectacularly rugged scenery crowned by Wilpena Pound best viewed from the air. You'll be suitably transported in APT's specially-designed four-wheel drive vehicle with luxury stays at Mount Lofty House in the Adelaide Hills and The Louise in the Barossa Valley for the winery portion of the tour though you won't be roughing it either at the well-appointed Ikara tented camp in the shadows of Wilpena Pound.
ESSENTIALS The seven-day tour departs Adelaide on October 19 and costs $3995 a person twin share. See aptouring.com.au
THE TOUR Islands and Icons of remote Queensland, eight days
Thursday Island. Photo: Alamy
THE OPERATOR Captain's Choice
WHAT THEY SAY "This new "Islands and Icons" journey takes in the best of Queensland, from remote outback towns to the very tip of Cape York in just eight days," says Bas Bosschieter, chief executive of Captain's Choice. "It's only possible to move around like this with our Captain's Choice business class private jet, seamlessly linking remote towns, hard to access destinations and islands. Highlights include a private dinner at the Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach, the Gulflander train from nowhere to nowhere, spending two nights at The Tip of Cape York and our farewell dinner at Hayman Island Resort."
WHAT WE SAY You want isolation? You want remote? You want luxury? Here's the perfect trip with the perfect operator and with a price-tag to match. Captain's Choice, best known for its international privately-chartered BAE-146 "Whisperjet" tours, is also an experienced operator of adventurous Australian tours undertaken in the utmost comfort. This tour neatly encompasses outback and coastal Queensland including lesser-visited, far-flung locations such as Thursday and Horn Islands. Wash off any accumulated outback dust and ocean sea-salt at one of Australia's most iconic island resorts to finish the tour.
ESSENTIALS Islands & Icons of Remote Queensland by business class private jet, eight days, departing September 14, 2020 and April 19 2021, $14,500 a person twin share. The tour starts and ends in either Brisbane or Sydney with Captain's Choice able to arrange connecting flights. See captainschoice.com.au
THE TOUR Ultimate Wonders of the West, seven days
Margaret River is renowned for its wineries. Photo: Tourism Western Australia
THE OPERATOR Trafalgar Travel
WHAT THEY SAY "With our 'Ultimate Wonders of the West' trip we know there is huge demand for the Margaret River region, and if you're going to experience the food and wine of this area, it's best you let somebody else that care of the transport for you," says Jason Wolff, the managing director of Trafalgar Travel. "We really believe that our guests will love the dining experiences on these trips, and they can rest assured that we've done the work in selecting and verifying that all of our experiences adhere to our distancing and rigorous hygiene standards."
WHAT WE SAY The closest many Australians have tended to get to the nation's western seaboard has been flying over it en route to Bali and beyond, or perhaps a transit in Perth for that marathon Qantas flight to London. Now, with the pandemic confining us to one giant island continental quarters, is the ideal time for an east meets west encounter. Aside from experiencing Western Australia's distinctive natural assets participants on this tour, devised in association with Trafalgar's sister brand, AAT Kings, will savour a seven course degustation lunch with matching wines at the Hay Shed Hill winery (rated with five stars by legendary wine critic James Halliday) in Wilyabrup, Margaret River.
ESSENTIALS The tour, which begins in Perth and finishes in Fremantle and includes a visit to Rottnest Island, starts from $3375 a person twin share not including airfares. Tours will run from September 19 until mid-January. See www.trafalgar.com